"I saw all of these different expressions of gender presentation, and it really just blew my mind."
Welcome to On Beauty, a series where we take a deep-dive look into one person's relationship to beauty, how that relationship has transformed over the years, and how they experience being seen. This week we're talking to Milan Garçon, a producer, media personality, and LGBTQ+ advocate who recently starred on season two of the HBO Max series Legendary.
Below, Garçon discusses growing up as a non-binary child in Ohio and how they grew confident and comfortable expressing their gender identity.
Photo: Courtesy of Milan Garcon
"Growing up in Cleveland, for a Black non-binary child, was very constricting. It was a city that had a different kind of life. It wasn't glamorized; you only saw the hustle, you only saw the struggle of Black people who've been systemically oppressed. And by that age, I knew I wasn't a boy or a girl, and I also knew I didn't like girls, so I never fit the expectations of what everyone was telling me to be. So I had to find my own way. I never got too attached to the city of Cleveland—there was no representation of people like me there. I left as soon as I could.
"My family life was amazing, though. My family is really supportive of me; they always have been, but I didn't give them that chance when I was younger. It's one of my biggest regrets, not coming out to my family sooner. I wish I hadn't felt like I had to hide so much because those were things that the world taught me and were passed down generationally, and little did I know my family was ready to break that generational curse. But I waited until my first year of college, when I moved away from Cleveland, to come out to my friends and family.
"I've always known that I was non-binary. Since I was little, I knew that I was not like the rest of the boys, even though I was assigned male at birth. Like, I get why y'all assigned me to this group, but I didn't fit in. As a kid, I would make DIY heels and sandals out of plastic and batteries; I tried on all of my mom's dresses. I was always this way, I just didn't have the vocabulary available at the time to name it.
"I remember thinking that I didn't want to be a girl, but if I could be a girl, just for a day, I would be so happy. When I moved to New York, I saw all of these different expressions of gender presentation, and it really just blew my mind. I was like, 'Wow, you can be who you are on the inside on the outside, too?'
Photo: Courtesy of Milan Garcon
"One of my beauty role models growing up was my mom—she is my love for makeup. In terms of what products I use and how my vanity is set up, it's gotten to the point where I'm like, 'Oh my god, I am my mother.' I started wearing makeup when I was 20 years old because I was at a modeling competition and I fell in love with how they did my makeup. I decided that I was going to learn how to do it and went out and bought all of these drugstore products.
"YouTube taught me how to do makeup—there was a 30-minute full face beat tutorial that I'd watch. I'd watch a step, pause, do my makeup, and repeat. This was around the time that Rihanna's album Anti came out; it would take me two full listens of that album to do my face. Now I can do my makeup in 15 minutes.
"I hate to be so cliché, but RuPaul is another one of my beauty idols. RuPaul was somebody that I would watch and think, "Well, that's somebody that was labeled a guy when they were born, but they don't look like a guy right now.'
Photo: Joshua Allen Harris
"College felt like a safer environment for me. In college I found two girls, Bianca and Simone, who I felt I could be myself around, and we all joined the same modeling troupe. From there, that's when I started to learn to walk runway. I would put on their wigs, their clothes, and their shoes, and we would perform and dance and have a good time. That's when I started exploring gender beyond the binary; I started to explore the presentation that I wanted versus the box that I was forcing myself to fit into.
"I had two internships with Fox29Philly in college. My first time there, I didn't wear makeup. But the second time around, even though there was the fear that I'd be shunned from the industry, I decided that I wanted to be myself at work. I started wearing lashes, foundation, and nothing changed—everyone still treated me the same. I left that internship with the confidence to be who I am, no matter where I'm at, and that's what I've done and continue to do.
"To me, beauty means loving your flaws until you don't see them anymore; it's realizing that you've been judging yourself on beauty standards that were never built for you. True beauty is seeing it through your eyes and not someone else's."
Top photo: Courtesy of Instagram/@milangarcon
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